Believe it or not but getting access to a lead in a major motion picture just doesn’t happen every day…
In one of the most highly anticipated sequels of the holiday season, Ralph Breaks The Internet has burst on to screens everywhere just in time for the Thanksgiving Holiday Long Weekend. Six years after the original installment, this film really is the evolution of the animated sequel as it allows these characters emotional growth as they experience things and rely a story to kids unlike any that have come before.
That kind of emotional depth and character nuance wouldn’t come without the unique skill set of one of Hollywood’s most fascinating leading men; one John C Reilly. In advance of the release of the film I got the unique please to fly to New York to sit down and talk with the man who brought Ralph to life. We talked about what it meant to him to revisit the character, what motivates when picking projects and so much more…
Dave Voigt: This is the first time in your career that you’ve ever done a sequel. Can you talk me through those initial moments when you got the call and ultimately found out that you’d be putting the overalls on again (so to speak) and need to get back into that head space.
John C Reilly: Yeah this is the very first sequel that I have done and you that hadn’t even had occurred to me until someone else told me that during the junket for this movie. It really felt like it was just a continuation of the first one in a way, if only because they all take so long. It feels like I’ve been making these movies now for six or seven years now non-stop! I think the big thing was that it was a really good idea that they had for the sequel to go out on to the internet and have these characters expand and evolve in that way which I thought was really exciting. I really did build this guy from the ground up from out of my own heart and mind just through improve and collaborating with Rich (Moore) and Phil (Johnston) our directors, so it was really a very natural experience to go back and revisit Ralph. To tell you the truth it felt like I had never really left him.
Throughout your career you’ve always seemed to have found a balance between doing one for yourself and one to pay the bills…
To be fair that’s not really true, I’ve never taken a job for the paycheck in the business…
That’s completely fair…
Because you know even if it is a little indie film or a big budget popcorn studio film, I’ve always had to do stuff that I genuinely believe in and especially at this point in my career because I have done so many different things it just doesn’t make any sense for me to take a job strictly thinking about the money or just for the sake of staying employed. It has to be something I’m really inspired by or it’s a chance for me to work with someone that I am really inspired by.
That’s a fantastic way to be, because I look at something you did recently like The Sisters Brothers which I loved but also you’re basically in the woods the entire time, with something like this you could really do it all your sweatpants if you wanted to. As an actor, do you have to develop a different mindset on how to tackle the material depending on the job or does it all end up happening in a fairly similar fashion?
In some ways doing voice over work is simpler, but in others it’s actually a lot more complex and demanding because you just don’t have your physical body to convey emotion with and it’s all got to come out of your mouth and your voice. That being said though the truly great thing is that you are never fighting the clock, and I mean ever!
Sure the animators are obviously, but if I record two hours of dialogue it takes the animators something like two months to catch up to me. You’re always ahead of the animators and you’re never worried about the sun going down or how many hours are left in the day. You just get to go in, goof around, make each other laugh and improvise with the characters which really makes for a joyful work experience…and even though you can show up in your PJ’s if you wanted to, I always try to show up dressed like I am now! (Editor’s note: He had this funky suit, with a great Troubadour style hat looking like a million bucks) I guess I’m just a weirdo that way (Laughs). There’s another guy at the studio; Jim Reardon and he was the head of story at the studio and he wears a three piece suit every day as well. (Smiles)
And it’s funny that you say that because I had always imagined that you might lose a little bit of the camaraderie that you develop on set while doing voice work for an animated feature…
And you know on most animated features I’d say that’s actually true, but for us from the very last session on the first movie we has decided and we’re resolute to work together as much as we could because any time you try and improvise and really do an exploration of the characters simply by messing around it’s so important to be able to have your scene partner in the room with you. Otherwise if you come up with a great joke or idea, then you have to wait until the other person can come back to the studio to answer what you may have just done and that really does end up complicating things much more than it does to simplify them. Especially when you are working with someone like Sarah (Silverman) who is just so agile comedically that you want to be able to take advantage of what is happening in the room right then and there, plus the animators love it when improvise because that’s when you really end up finding those lines that sound genuine, like people actually talk and it helps to make the characters become that much more alive. Rich and Phil really couldn’t have been more playful and they gave us time to experiment and explore to try and find those lightening in a bottle kind of moments.
Was there any specific moment during this production when you could tell that you had all managed to capture that lightening in a bottle once again?
Hmmmm…you know it’s hard to tell until it all comes together but I know on some of the days when Sarah and I had to get super emotional we would just stand back from it for a second and be like “Wow, for a cartoon that was a pretty intense day”. The relationship stuff that Ralph and Vanellope have to deal with in this one was pretty involving.
How have you enjoyed the audience reactions to these films as we see Ralph really evolving into a very unique kind of Disney hero?
One way or another Ralph has always aspired to be the hero of the story and for me this has all really been a big honor. To be part of the legacy of people who have made movies with Disney feels so cool and really humbling in many ways to get to be a part of that club. And on top of that the reaction that kids have because when you get to make a film that really touches a kid, where you genuinely get into their head on an emotional level and get to a place that they can relate to is really really huge. As adults, I mean you must see a ton of movies, I’ve seen a bunch and when we react to something it’s just a very different experience because we’ll know that we’ve either enjoyed it or not, but when an 8 year old kid gets to have those emotional reactions with a Disney movie, that is just a life defining moment you know?
The first time I saw some of these Disney cartoons, it’s something that you unequivocally remember for the rest of your life. It’s not something that just happened but when you get create touch kids at a young age, it’s such a big moment in their lives and that’s a responsibility that I take really seriously. These kids all over the world have allowed me into their hearts as Ralph and it’s a unique experience from so much of the other work that I have done.
Is that the core joy for you, no matter what kind of project you may have been working on, just having the ability to make moments that people will invariably remember forever?
You know to tell you the truth; I am usually more focused on my own experience whenever I am making movies. If it’s a live action piece I really get so engaged with what I experienced walking in the shoes of that character but for this one, since I’m not a part of the process in bringing the character physically to life, you can be a little more objective about it because you are one step removed from it all. Other then this franchise, I really haven’t done all that much work for kids so these films really have a special resonance for me.
Since this is your first sequel, if you could go back through all your films and the characters you’ve played and revisit one of them to make a sequel with them, who would it be?
You know I really wanted to make a sequel with my character, Hank Marlow from Kong: Skull Island. And I owe them a sequel actually; when I signed on to make it I committed to making two movies if they wanted to me to. Then of course the other day I read something in the trades that Legendary is getting ready to do another Kong movie and I thought COOL! I guess I’m getting a call any day now! (Laughs) Then I checked into it and they were like, “Nope, the movie is set in the future and all the characters from the original are dead” (Laughs) But I really loved that guy, with his WWII clothes and loving the music with his wild hair, that one would have been fun.
Part of me was hoping you’d say the further adventures of Reed Rothchild (from Boogie Nights) but I think I like your answer better. Thanks again for the time today.
(LAUGHS) My pleasure this was fun.
Ralph Breaks The Internet is in theatres everywhere now.